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Uncivil War

by on October 15, 2021

Uncivil War

by Marco M. Pardi

I sometimes think of what future historians will say of us. A single sentence will suffice for modern man: he fornicated and read the papers.” Albert Camus

You can get much further with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.” Al Capone

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

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Although mainstream newspapers are gaining ascendancy on the Endangered Media List, they are daring to discuss the increasing talk of coming civil war in the United States. Whether anyone is bothering to read them is another topic.

When, in the late 1940’s, my family and I settled in the United States we lived, almost literally, on the shores of Lake Erie in northern Ohio. Canada was of far more relevance to me than the steaming, insect infested South. But a few years into school I learned of the American Civil War. I did not find that war meaningful to me, it having happened decades earlier mostly in a land, the South, I had never seen and which held no interest. We had just come from years in the cauldron of World War II Europe. I still think of the Civil War in those distant terms, even though I have lived in different parts of the South, as I do now.

Coming to the South I heard of the War by other names: The War Between the States (logical only if you accept the idea of two opposing monolithic blocs); and, The War of Northern Aggression (acceptable only if you overlook the South’s opening attack on Fort Sumter). But by whatever name it was not as clear cut as most of the participants and the simplistic history books would have it. Although literacy rates were higher in Northern urban areas, the common soldiers on both sides were largely illiterate to semi-literate, often barely able to sign their names to their pay stubs. They had none to limited access to newspapers, no radio, no television, and no internet. The soldiers of the North, dressed in blue, knew they should shoot the soldiers of the South, dressed in gray. And vice versa. A core belief about the cause of the war was the enforcement of the abolition of slavery. But few could foresee the enormous ramifications such a cause would bring.

Indeed, the American Civil War was fought mainly in the agricultural South, and when it was over and the slaves were freed the farmers and plantation owners found their fields and crops devastated and themselves without the money to pay labor which had, up to that time, been largely cost free. Many of the former slaves, finding themselves unable to secure paid jobs, moved to the North. In doing so they fell prey to the Robber – Barons, the “Captains of the Industrial Revolution”, who quickly exploited their desperation for work by hiring them into jobs that were little more than the slave labor from which they had just been freed. Add to that the reluctance of many Northern employers to hire immigrants, White or Black, obviously – one indicator was their dialectical speech – from the South.

But for the most part the Civil War was clarified by more than the color of the uniforms: Speech patterns, comparative levels of education, exposure to other cultures, definite geographic identity, and likely socio-economic futures presented clear demarcations. These demarcations have now become blurred to non-existent in the subsequent decades. While election cycles thrive on the depictions of “Blue States” and “Red States” and political parties gerrymander districts to gain election advantages, it remains quite true that you do not know your neighbor’s political orientation until you ask. If you dare ask.

A few posts ago I wrote of a road trip to rural North Georgia during which I saw a multitude of Trump signs, guns for sale signs, and indications from other people that my Covid mask was a political statement. Local candidates for political office devoted more space to their allegiance to Trump than to any positions they would take on issues of local concern. But while it is easy, even amusing, to paint these people with a single broad brush, that would be a serious error. The obvious demarcations evident in the North versus South conflict do not apply.

Yet, there is increasing “chatter” on social media sites and right wing “news” channels, which are blatantly propaganda outlets, about a coming “civil war”. Readers of my column are aware that I have some background in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism. And it is this background which has me wondering just how such an event would take place. A journalist addresses the classic question such as: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. I would add How. Many mainstream commentators are referring to the January 6th attack as Insurrection; and, many factions, such as Trumpists and anti-vaxxers are referring to it as a “great success”. Aside from a damaged building and injured and dead people, how was it a success? Do they see it as their Fort Sumter?

Counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism specialists examine and assess intelligence which provides insights into such factors as Short and Long Term Capability; Internal Cohesion; Liaison With and Ability to Link with Other Groups; Logistics and Support Capability; and, Assumed Tactical Outcomes in Service to Strategic Goals. Countering insurgents or terrorists requires thinking like an insurgent or a terrorist; thus, when they do what you have expected and have prepared for they are far easier to excarnate.

Many people think only of the act, not the atmosphere of resources which must support the act. In explaining the inner workings of an agency for which I worked I used the example of an aircraft carrier. The mention of that term brings visions of fighter pilots flying off a deck into action. Yet a carrier is a floating city, with cooks, clerks, supply personnel, navigators, communicators, medical personnel, mechanics, plumbers, and a host of other career fields that will never touch an aircraft. In the same way an insurgency requires a broad foundation composed of a variety of human and material resources; terrorist cells less so, but still in need of support.

With this firmly in mind I would conclude that talk of civil war is the hyperbolic venting of fantasy. Yes, 74 million people voted to re-elect Trump. But the likelihood that even a tiny fraction of that number would knowingly participate in some form in an insurgency is vanishingly small. Yes, gun ownership, membership in “militias” or some other Army-Navy store dress up and play groups, and membership in science rejecting religions accounts for troubling numbers. But I strongly suspect two elements are at play here: The people who talk the loudest are the least likely to show up in the face of danger (consider Trump inciting a mob on January 6th with assurances that he would march on the Capitol with them. He then ran and hid in the White House and watched the mob on television). And, this is most troubling, I strongly suspect the most virulent talk of civil war is coming from outside entities, such as Russia, China, and Iran, which have a vested interest in seeing this country tear itself apart. Unlike the men who rushed to don the Blue or the Gray, people across this country have access to mass media and social media in many forms and our external adversaries are masters of these resources. Perhaps our war efforts should be more focused on countering ignorance, the actual foundation of the social and political choices people make.

At the Presidential inauguration of Joe Biden a young Black woman, a stunningly brilliant poet, delivered her poem, “The Hill We Climb”. Quoting salient points, she said, “We braved the belly of the beast……We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace….Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”

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14 Comments
  1. Mike Stamm permalink

    I devoutly hope you’re right, and think that you very likely are. But war of any kind does not come about through rational processes; there is no cost-benefit analysis, no careful discussion of costs and consequences. This is particularly true of civil wars. So it would not surprise me to see some abortive attempt by a relatively small group of those who think themselves disenfranchised. It would probably result in something abortive but bloody and tragic in the classical sense like the Jacquerie or the Pilgrimage of Grace or the Children’s Crusade, not to mention much more modern catastrophes like the civil wars in what would have been Biafra or Africa. I hope it doesn’t come to that…but as long as Drumpf and Carlson and the lesser fry of the same ilk still find listeners, that profoundly ugly possibility remains. Our own Civil War ended over 150 years ago, but is still the source of anger and dissension. A new one, even a much smaller conflict, would inflame that still-gangrenous wound for many decades to come.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Mike. You present erudite and informed analysis. I certainly agree that limited and sporadic attacks are possible, perhaps likely. But I think linkage is a key that is lacking among the groups possibly involved. I also have concerns for “insider” actions, such as groups embedded within the military and law enforcement communities. Just today we see the indictment of a 25 year Capitol police officer for his assistance to an insurgent who broke his way into the Capitol building.

    My best hope is that any such actions are suppressed quickly and effectively, with very serious prison sentences awarded to the survivors. The cabal, of which Trump was only the latest front man, came alarmingly close to imposing a Fascist dictatorship upon a largely unsuspecting nation. We must accept the challenge to remove the gloves and strike back with all due and proper force.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Marcia Formica permalink

    I completely agree with you, Marco! Nevertheless, the factors which have been dividing us ever more successfully since the 1980s (including outside actors, as you so aptly point out) continue to get their fuel from a (de-facto) state-supported corporate complex, e.g., the still-incomprehensible-to-me Supreme Court decision on Citizens United among so many others. My biggest worry for this country – really for the world – is the increasing chasm between “haves” and “have-nots;” the blind and selfish pursuit of the material above all else; the justification of this mindset by the structures of our economic and political systems. I do not want to live in a world of gated communities and discourse on both sides of the “gates” manipulated by the monied few, and yet, that is exactly what is happening. It’s like a giant psy-ops project to see how hard (or easy?!) it is to convince people to vote and act in ways that fly directly in the face of their own self-interest and that of the community at-large. It does soothe me somewhat to be a part of communities who understand this and are willing to act to thwart its creep. I’m concerned though that a huge swath are so focused on the day-to-day of just getting along that they are blinded to the tragedy that may lie just a generation ahead if they don’t break away from their complacency.

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    • Thank you so much, Marcia. In fact, you went straight to the heart of the growing divide in this country, indeed in the world: Haves vs. Have-Nots. History has given us recent manifestations of how deadly this can become: The French Revolution; the Russian Revolution.

      I have long wondered if there is an upper limit to the size and complexity of a society, a limit at which, like an aging cell, it enters the stage of apoptosis. We may be seeing that now, though the process will be more brutal on succeeding generations, such as they will be. No doubt those who Have will fight to the last breathe against those who struggle just to maintain life. And in the end they could destroy us all.

      But I think that, at least at first, this will not be a re-incarnation of the French Revolution even if there are shouts of “Off with their heads!”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Marcia Formica permalink

        Very interesting thought/analogy to the cell! I’d add to it the idea of the “free-radicals” in the analogy (the same interests I noted above) breaking down the cellular structure; aggregating, growing, overwhelming the “cell” as a cancer!!

        Like

  4. jkent33 permalink

    You have again peeled away the layers of history to reveal the actual building blocks that lead to civil war within a nation. As always, thought provoking and interesting to learn more and more about how these occurrences start and end. As you indicate it takes more than a few resources to actually front such behavior. Of more importance, is the fact that when we show dissent among ourselves, it opens the door for our enemies to step forward fanning the fire. I trust our leaders have such roadblocks in place to record and the mechanisms to stop such behavior before it gets our of hand. But before we spend our resources on matters of this nature; we first of all, need to mend the divisions within our Congress. Having open dialogue in denial of the obvious truth is certainly getting us no where fast. I have hopes these hearing on the insurrection will lay bare to the public how to vote in 2022.
    I humbly offer my thanks to be able to share your knowledge on matters of this ilk.

    Like

  5. Thank you, Jerry. There may well be an uptick in domestic attacks against government installations, Democratic Party facilities, and government personnel at all levels. We are shamed when our public institutions must be fortified against attacks from our own people. But there can be no doubt that outside hostile actors would play a large part where able.

    As an open society we are unfortunately vulnerable to mass casualty terror attacks – easily designed. But organized warfare requires more than just gun store weapons and a pickup truck full of booze.

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  6. Marco, I am at a loss when attempting to add my thoughts to those found here; I simply do not currently possess the thought processes necessary to make sense of it all.

    I was born in northern part of this country, and raised in the south. My accent was called “yankee” here, and “southern” when we visited our relatives in Indiana. Young friends played at war, with me as the eternal enemy. I didn’t know about the Civil war at that young age, but they not only knew about it, but apparently lived it as part of their everyday life. Note: there is nothing civil about war.

    A true/false question on a test once read, “War is inevitable.” The answer was meant to be “false”, but I question whether that is factual, given that humans are involved. Where I live, Trump flags still fly; a sign on a street corner read “Biden is not my president”. My stomach churns and my heart aches. I don’t think it will come to be an organized war, but the conflict I see every day between family, friends, and neighbors leaves me in fear that what could come to be is far worse.

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    • Thank you, Rose. I feel I understand your concerns. Uncertainty seems the be the most common feeling throughout America and beyond. Just this morning it was announced that Liz Cheney, a staunch Republican, feels she has seen evidence that Trump and Bannon plotted to overthrow the government of the United States. Of course, two people could not do it alone, and they must certainly have known they could count on a broad support. Unlike the Mason-Dixon line of Civil War days, there is no clear demarcation identifying their support; it is spread throughout the United States.

      This dissemination is particularly troubling when it comes to considering the military. As you well know from your career, the All Volunteer military is very different from the Draft based military. The Draft military was far more diverse and therefore less vulnerable to the predations of those who would turn it against their own people. Today’s All Volunteer force is composed of a much narrower demographic, and far more likely to be weighted in favor of demagogues such as Trump. Even our militarized police forces, in their rejection of vaccine mandates, show their true colors.

      So, those who are supposed to protect the people may play a role in overturning the will of the people. We are in very uncertain times.

      Like

  7. Dana permalink

    Marco, thanks for including that especially meaningful excerpt from Amanda Garmon’s poem. Life will always have its uncertainties. Imagining how much worse it might become isn’t the best course of action for some of us. Even in the midst of suffering there is still beauty around us and opportunity to uplift others.

    Like

    • Thank you, Dana. I was profoundly moved while watching her deliver her poem.

      p.s. Your gravitar is truly pleasing, and speaks of you.

      Like

  8. Dana permalink

    Marco I wrote a response but evidently it didn’t post. But I’m glad I can please you. What you ttink of me matters dearly. The good bad and ugly.

    It’s evident I’ve been under stress because I want to be completely wrapped up in this world. It feels safe and inviting, a place where I’m permitted to be myself even if that changes.

    Like

  9. Thanks, Dana. I hope you identify the root of the stress and the best ways of handling it.

    Like

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